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A teaching on the meditative practice of calm abiding (shi-nä)

Concentration is important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for the practice of concentration is shi-nä (zhi-gNas). Shi means peace and means to dwell; shi-nä, then, is dwelling in peace or being without busyness.

If we do not carefully watch the mind it may seem that it is peaceful. However, when we really look inside we see that this is not so. Mind does not rest on the same object for even a single second. It flutters around like a banner flapping in the wind. No sooner does mind settle on one object than it is carried away by another. Even if we live in a cave on a high mountain the mind moves incessantly. When we are on the top of a tall city building we can look down and see how busy the city is, but when we are walking on the streets we are aware of only a fraction of the busyness. Similarly, if we do not investigate correctly we will never be aware of how busy the mind really is.

Primary consciousness itself is pure and stainless, but gathered around it are fifty-one secondary mental elements, some of which are positive, some negative and some neutral. Of these secondary elements, in ordinary beings, the negative ones are stronger than the positive. Most people never attempt to gain control of these secondary mental elements; if they did they would be amazed at how difficult such a task is. Because the negative elements have dominated the mind for countless lifetimes, overcoming them will require tremendous effort. Yet shi-nä cannot be experienced until they have been totally subdued.

Thus the busyness of the mind is mind-produced. This means that a mental rather than a physical effort is required to eliminate it. Nonetheless, when engaging in an intensive effort to develop shi-nä it is important to make use of certain secondary factors of a physical nature. For example, the place where one practises should be clean, quiet, close to nature and pleasing to the mind. And friends that visit should be peaceful and virtuous. One's body should be strong and free from disease.

The practice of concentration requires sitting in y proper posture, to which there are seven points:

  1. Legs crossed and feet resting on the thighs, with soles turned upward. If this causes too much pain, it distracts from concentration. In which case, sit with the left foot tucked under the right thigh and the right foot resting on the left thigh.
  2. The trunk set as straight and erect as possible.
  3. Arms formed into a bow-shape, with elbows neither resting against the sides of the body nor protruding outward. The right hand rests in the left palm, with the thumbs touching lightly to form an oval.
  4. The neck straight but slightly hooked, with the chin drawn in.
  5. Eyes focused downward at the same angle as the line of the nose.
  6. Mouth and lips relaxed, neither drooping nor shut tightly.
  7. Tongue lightly held against the palate.

These are the seven points of the correct meditational posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path. Also, there is a practical purpose in each of the seven:

  1. Having the feet crossed keeps the body in a locked position. One may eventually sit for a long period of time in meditation, even weeks or months in a single sitting. With legs locked, one will not fall over.
  2. Holding the trunk straight allows maximum functioning of the channels carrying the vital energies throughout the body. The mind rides on these energy currents, so keeping the channels working well is very important to successful meditation.
  3. The position of the arms also contributes to the flow of the energy currents.
  4. The position of the neck keeps open the energy channels going to the head and prevents the neck from developing cramps.
  5. If the eyes are cast at too high an angle the mind easily becomes agitated, if at too low an angle the mind quickly becomes drowsy.
  6. The mouth and lips are held like this to stabilize the breath. If the mouth is held too tightly shut, breathing is obstructed whenever the nose congests. If the mouth is help open too widely, breathing becomes too strong, increasing the fire element and raising the blood pressure.
  7. Holding tongue against the palate avoids an excessive build-up of saliva and keeps the throat from parching. Also, insects will not be able to enter the mouth or throat.

These are only the most obvious reasons for the seven points of the meditational posture. The secondary reasons are far too numerous to be dealt with here. It should be noted that the nature of the energy currents of some people does not permit them to use this position and they must be given an alternative. But this is very rare.

Although merely sitting in the vajra posture produces a good frame of mind, this is not enough. The main work, that done by the mind, has not yet even begun. The way to remove a thief who has entered a room is to go inside the house and throw him out, not to sit outside and shout at him. If we sit on top of a mountain and our mind constantly wanders down to the village below, little is achieved.

Concentration has two enemies, mental agitation, or busyness, and mental torpor, or numbness.

Generally, agitation arises from desire. An attractive object appears in the mind and the mind leaves the object of meditation to follow it.

Torpor arises from subtle apathy developing within the mind.

In order to have firm concentration these two obstacles must be eliminated. A man needs a candle in order to see a painting which is on the wall of a dark room. If there is a draught of wind the candle will flicker too much for the man to be able to see properly and if the candle is too small its flame will be too weak. When the flame of the mind is not obstructed by the wind of mental agitation and not weakened by the smallness of torpor it can concentrate properly upon the picture of the meditation object.

In the early stages of the practice of concentration mental agitation is more of a hindrance than torpor. The mind is continually flying away from the object of concentration. This can be seen by trying to keep the mind fixed on the memory of a face. The image of the face is soon replaced by something else.

Halting this process is difficult, for we have built the habit of succumbing to it over a long period of time and are not accustomed to concentration. To take up the new and leave behind the old is always hard. Yet, because concentration is fundamental to all forms of higher meditation and to all higher mental activity, one should make the effort.

Mental agitation is overcome principally by the force of mindfulness and torpor by attentive application. In the diagram representing the development of shi-nä there is an elephant. The elephant symbolizes the meditator's mind. Once an elephant is tamed, he never refuses to obey his master and he becomes capable of many kinds of work. The same applies to the mind. Furthermore, a wild and untamed elephant is dangerous, often causing terrible destruction. Just so, the untamed mind can cause any of the sufferings of the six realms.

[[{"fid":"7159","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][_weight]":"0"},"type":"media","link_text":null,"field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][_weight]":"0"}},"attributes":{"alt":"Click to see larger image","height":303,"width":200,"style":"float: right; margin-left: 8px; margin-right: 8px; width: 200px; height: 303px;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]At the bottom of the diagram depicting the development of concentration the elephant is totally black. This is because at the primary stage of the development of shi-nä mental torpor pervades the mind.

In front of the elephant is a monkey representing mental agitation. A monkey cannot keep still for a moment but is always chattering and fiddling with something, being attracted to everything.

The monkey is leading the elephant. At this stage of practice mental agitation leads the mind everywhere.

Behind the elephant trails the meditator, who is trying to gain control of the mind. In one hand he holds a rope, symbolic of mindfulness, and in the other he holds a hook, symbolic of alertness.

At this level the meditator has no control whatsoever over his mind. The elephant follows the monkey without paying the slightest attention to the meditator. In the second stage the meditator has almost caught up with the elephant.

In the third stage the meditator throws the rope over the elephant's neck. The elephant looks back, symbolizing that here the mind can be somewhat restrained by the power of mindfulness. At this stage a rabbit appears on the elephant's back. This is the rabbit of subtle mental torpor, which previously was too fine to be recognized but which now is obvious to the meditator.

In these early stages we have to apply the force of mindfulness more than the force of mental attentive application for agitation must be eliminated before torpor can be dealt with.

In the fourth stage the elephant is far more obedient. Only rarely does he have to be given the rope of mindfulness.

In the fifth stage the monkey follows behind the elephant, who submissively follows the rope and hook of the meditator. Mental agitation no longer heavily disturbs the mind.

In the sixth stage the elephant and monkey both follow meekly behind the meditator. The meditator no longer needs even to look back at them. He no longer has to focus his attention in order to control the mind. The rabbit has now disappeared.

In the seventh stage the elephant is left to follow of its own accord. The meditator does not have to give it either the rope of mindfulness or the hook of attentive application. The monkey of agitation has completely left the scene. Agitation and torpor never again occur in gross forms and even subtly only occasionally.

In the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white. He follows behind the man for the mind is now fully obedient. Nonetheless, some energy is still required in order to sustain concentration.

In the ninth stage the meditator sits in meditation and the elephant sleeps at his feet. The mind can now indulge in effortless concentration for long periods of time, even days, weeks or months.

These are the nine stages of the development of shi-nä. The tenth stage is the attainment of real shi-nä represented by the meditator calmly riding on the elephant's back.

Beyond this is an eleventh stage, in which the meditator is depicted as riding on the elephant, who is now walking in a different direction. The meditator holds a flaming sword. He has now entered into a new kind of meditation called vipasyana, or higher insight: (Tibetan: Lhag-mthong). This meditation is symbolized by his flaming sword, the sharp and penetrative implement that cuts through to realization of Voidness.

At various points in the diagram there is a fire. This fire represents the effort necessary to the practice of shi-nä. Each time the fire appears it is smaller than the previous time. Eventually it disappears. At each successive stage of development less energy is needed to sustain concentration and eventually no effort is required. The fire reappears at the eleventh stage, where the meditator has taken up meditation on voidness.

Also on the diagram are the images of food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume and a mirror. They symbolize the five sources of mental agitation, i.e. the five sensual objects: those of taste, touch, sound, smell and sight, respectively.

Most people take the mental image of a Buddha-form their object of concentration in order to develop shi-nä. First one must become thoroughly familiar with the object that one will focus on. This is done by sitting in front of a statue or drawing of the object for a few sessions and gazing at it. Then try sitting in meditation, holding the image of the form in mind without the aid of the statue or drawing. At first your visualization of it will not be very clear nor will you be able to hold if for more than a few seconds. Nonetheless, try to hold the image as clearly and for as long a period as possible. By persisting you will soon be able to retain the image for a minute, then two minutes and so forth. Each time the mind leaves the object apply mindfulness and bring it back. Meanwhile, continually maintain attentive application to see if unnoticed disturbances are arising.

Just as a man carrying a bowl full of water down a rough road has to keep one part of his mind on the water and another part on the road, in shi-nä practice one part of the mind must apply mindfulness to maintain steady concentration and another part must use attentive application to guard against disturbances. Later, when mental agitation has somewhat subsided, mindfulness will not have to be used very often. However, then the mind is fatigued from having fought agitation for so long and consequently torpor sets in.

Eventually, a stage comes when the meditator feels tremendous bliss and peace. This is actually only extremely subtle torpor but it is often mistakenly taken to be real shi-nä. With persistence, this too disappears. The mind gradually becomes more clear and fresh and the length of each meditation session correspondingly increases. At this point the body can be sustained entirely by the mind. One no longer craves food or drink. The meditator can now meditate for months without a break. Eventually he attains the ninth stage of shi-nä, at which level, the scriptures say, the meditator is not disturbed even if a wall collapses beside him. He continues to practice and feels a mental and physical pleasure totally beyond description, depicted in the diagram by a man flying. Here his body is inexhaustible and amazingly supple. His mind, deeply peaceful, can be turned to any object of meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The tenth stage of shi-nä—or actual shi-nä, is attained. When he meditates it is as though the mind and the object of meditation become one.

Now the meditator can look deeply into the nature of his object of meditation while holding all details of the object in his mind. This gives him extraordinary joy.

Here, looking into the nature of his object of meditation means that he examines it to see whether or not it is pure, whether or not it is permanent, what is its highest truth, etc. This is the meditation known as vipasyana, or higher insight. Through it the mind gains a deeper perception of the object than it could through concentration alone.

Merely having shi-nä gives tremendous spiritual satisfaction; but not going on to better things is like having built an aeroplane and then never flying it. Once concentration has been attained, the mind should he applied to higher practices. On the one hand it has to be used to overcome karma and mental distortion, and on the other hand to cultivate the qualities of a Buddha. In order to ultimately accomplish these goals, the object of meditation that it takes up must be voidness itself. Other forms of meditation are only to prepare the mind for approaching voidness. If you have a torch with the capacity to illuminate anything you should use it to find something important. The torch of shi-nä should be directed at realization of voidness for it is only a direct experience of voidness which pulls out the root of all suffering.

In the eleventh stage on the diagram two black lines flow out of the meditator's heart. One of these represents klesavarana, the obscurations of karma and mental distortion. The other represents jneyavarana, the obscurations of the instincts of mental distortion. The meditator holds the wisdom-sword of vipasyana meditation, with which he plans to sever these two lines.

Once a practitioner has come close to understanding voidness he is on his way to the perfection of wisdom. Prajna-paramita, the ultimate goal of the development of concentration.

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

CHAPTERS
Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra

PERFECT ABANDONMENT AND PERFECT REALIZATION

To become a completely enlightened person, a buddha, we must fulfill two levels of achievement-the "level of perfect abandonment" and "the level of perfect realization." In order to achieve perfect realization we need to travel the structured spiritual path. We begin by cultivating great compassion. When great compassion arises in our mind, the Mahayana seed has been activated within us. We are then able to generate the altruistic mind of enlightenment, or bodhicitta, which we can also call the bodhisattva spirit. As we progress through the five spiritual paths-the path of accumulation, the path of preparation, the path of seeing, or insight, the path of meditation and the path of no more learning-we also progress through what are known as the "ten spiritual grounds of bodhisattvas." When we complete the five paths and ten grounds, we reach the state of highest enlightenment. We keep on discarding what are known as the "objects of abandonment" along the way-the things we must get rid of in order to progress-and we continue accumulating realizations. Eventually, we will have what is known as "omniscient wisdom," the all-knowing wisdom of a buddha. That is the perfect realization.

Perfect abandonment is something we can accomplish by way of eliminating the two major mental obscurations-the obscurations to personal liberation and the obscurations to the omniscient state. We should slowly try to purify the negativities we have already accumulated and try not to create new ones. We are not able to remember our past lives but we should try to understand the existence of former lives through inference from our present one. In this life, we do not find it difficult to do the wrong things. It seems so natural and easy to engage in negativities that it's as if we are magnetically drawn to them. From this we can infer that in many previous lifetimes we created and accumulated tremendous negativities that we need to purify.

If we just keep on repeating negative actions without purifying them, after some time we might lose all hope and think that nothing can save us. It all feels too much. It seems impossible to purify our negativities and to stop creating more because it has become a way of life. Let's say we have taken out a loan. If we don't pay back anything, the interest keeps on accumulating and after some time the debt becomes totally unmanageable. The wise thing to do is to pay the loan back slowly in small installments. If we do this, then one day we will have paid back all the money we borrowed and we won't need to worry any more.

In the same way, we need to purify our old debt-like negativities and not acquire new loan-like negativities. If we don't do that, but let them go on piling up, they become so powerful, so intense and captivating, that we may lose faith in our ability to purify them. These negativities then precipitate our rebirth in any one of the three unfortunate states, where we remain for eons. It is better not to fall into that kind of state in the first place. Strive instead for perfect abandonment and perfect realization.

INTEGRATING BODHICITTA AND THE WISDOM OF EMPTINESS

If your goal is just to be liberated from cyclic existence, then the wisdom that perceives emptiness is the essential realization because that is the liberating path. If you don't have that wisdom, this cycle of compulsive rebirths will keep on spinning like a wheel and you will just keep wandering around within it. However, in order to follow the complete path that can lead to perfect abandonment and perfect realization, you have to integrate bodhicitta with the wisdom of emptiness.

Bodhicitta is even more essential than the wisdom of emptiness for reaching buddhahood. Cultivating the wisdom that realizes emptiness is certainly wonderful and powerful, but if that kind of wisdom is not integrated with the altruistic mind of enlightenment, you won't be able to fulfill the two types of collection-the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom-or to attain the two enlightened bodies-rupakaya and dharmakaya.

You must learn how to cultivate bodhicitta, the bodhisattva's attitude, and you must follow and meditate on this way. It is not enough just to pray and hope that you may some day be able to experience bodhicitta. Nor is it enough to simply recite mantras and do your daily prayers. Of course, by doing prayers, reciting mantras and making such aspirational wishes, you are no doubt creating positive energy or merit, but if you don't cultivate the techniques for actually generating bodhicitta, you will never ever experience it. If you don't have the experience of bodhicitta, you must make every effort to cultivate it, and those of you who do shouldn't just stop there-you must make every effort to enhance this mind of enlightenment further.

At the same time, you must remember that the wisdom realizing emptiness is the only antidote to all your delusions, and without getting rid of your delusions, enlightenment is just a daydream. Again, simply making prayers, reciting mantras and sitting in a beautiful posture is not going to do the job. Until you achieve the paths of the transcendental beings-the path of seeing and beyond-you cannot stop creating new karmic actions that precipitate your rebirth in cyclic existence. When you have gained direct experience and realization into emptiness, you will be able to see the law of karmic action and result as if it were functioning right under your nose.

Someone with excellent eyesight is not going to make the mistake of falling off a cliff. Likewise, when you have direct experience of and realization into emptiness, you will no longer create any new negative karmic actions that send you over the cliff's edge into bad rebirths. This is not something that you should just keep at the back of your mind. It is something that you must clearly understand and in which you must develop confidence.

In an abbreviated version of the Wisdom Gone Beyond, or the Perfection of Wisdom, we find that of the six perfections, it is the perfection of wisdom that liberates us from our delusions. If the perfection of wisdom is eliminated, the remaining five can no longer be called perfections. The other perfections of giving, ethics, enthusiastic perseverance, patience and concentration are like auxiliary practices that enable us to develop this wisdom. The perfection of wisdom is likened to someone with perfect eyesight, while the other five are compared to five blind friends. The perfection of wisdom is the guide that can lead the others to their destination.

PREPARING TO MEDITATE ON EMPTINESS

The wisdom realizing emptiness as the final mode of existence ultimately arises through meditation practice, so we need to learn the techniques of meditation. When we enter this spiritual path, it is not enough just to study and listen to teachings. It is more important to do our practices. This also includes the practice of purification and the practice of the two accumulations of merit and wisdom. To be able to meditate on emptiness, we must first study or listen to teachings on the subject. Another important part of the process is to cultivate the causes and conditions that will prepare us to be suitable practitioners of emptiness. We have already reviewed the preliminaries that are covered in Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun. In particular, there are four preliminaries that we must understand and cultivate before proceeding with our study and meditation on emptiness.

  • We should contemplate the preciousness of our human life, which is characterized by all kinds of freedoms and enriching factors.
  • We need to contemplate the inevitability of our own death and the impermanence of all phenomena.
  • We have to study the infallible law of karmic actions and their results.
  • Based upon all these contemplations, we should cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the repetitive cycles of existence.

Of these preliminaries, perhaps the most important is cultivating the determined wish to be liberated from cyclic existence. Having studied and practiced these to a certain extent, we should then focus on the practice of emptiness. We always need to reconnect to our spiritual goal; remember that the reason we are studying and trying to engage in spiritual practice is because we want to become buddhas for the sake of all other sentient beings. As we have seen, even if we have the wonderful attitudes of immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable equanimity and immeasurable joy, without the wisdom realizing emptiness, we cannot eliminate our root ignorance. Only this wisdom can cut through our innate self-grasping. Some people may think, "Maybe if I go for some profound tantric empowerments, that will do the magic for me." However, simply attending and receiving initiations is not going to do the job either. When we take empowerments we commit ourselves to certain practices and vows that we are required to keep. If we break these commitments, we will take a bad rebirth. Therefore, if we are unprepared, receiving empowerments can become an obstacle instead of a benefit.

Let's say there is a source of water but the amount of water is far greater than you need and you lay a pipeline to drain off enough for yourself. Keeping the commitments of empowerments or initiations is as important as keeping that pipeline intact. If any cracks, holes or blockages appear in the pipe-in other words, if you break your commitments -you may think that you have maintained the connection to the source, but you are not going to receive any benefits or blessings from it. These will all seep out of the cracks and holes or simply not get through at all. Although it is good to receive tantric empowerments, keeping the accompanying commitments is much more important.

OBSTACLES TO MEDITATION-LAXITY AND EXCITEMENT

There are two major obstacles to meditation-laxity, or mental dullness, and excitement, or distraction. It is very important to learn to recognize laxity and excitement in both their coarse and subtle forms. If you don't, you can end up doing the wrong kind of meditation. Many Buddhist meditators have failed to recognize subtle laxity as an obstacle and have thought their meditation to be very advanced, thus wasting a lot of time. In his lam-rim text, the Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Tsongkhapa emphasizes the importance of recognizing precisely what the subtle forms of both laxity and dullness are.

Our mind should have clarity as well as a good grip on the object of meditation. If we don't have clarity, coarse laxity sets in. Sometimes we may have good clarity but our grip, our mental hold, on the object of meditation is loose. This means that our problem is subtle laxity. Laxity can be caused by many things, and as we identify these causes we can make the necessary adjustments to deal with them. For example, we experience coarse laxity if we eat too much food. The result is that we feel heavy and start to fall asleep. Eating at improper times or eating foods that are too rich can also cause laxity, as can depression or disappointment.

At such times we need to inspire ourselves not to get stuck in this state. One of the ways to do this is by remembering the pre-eminent qualities of the enlightened beings and how much effort they have made to become what they are and to help us, who are still trapped within samsara. In this way, we are reminded how much harder we need to work in our practices. Another way of dealing with laxity or mental sleepiness is to try to bring what we call the "brilliance of light" into our mind-to switch on the internal light of illumination. If that doesn't work, we should go and wash our face or take a walk. In short, to deal with laxity we should refresh ourselves.

Excitement or distraction happens when our mind is not really staying on the object of meditation. When we are sitting on our meditation cushion, we may begin to think about many things, either good or bad. There is a mental agitation that churns out all kinds of thoughts and ideas, such as all the things we have to do that day. When we do a good meditation we notice pins and needles in our feet and pain in our knees, but when we are distracted for the whole session, we don't feel any pain at all. When our mind wanders in this way, ego, pride and arrogance emerge and become a cause of excitement. Our minds become totally distracted and we are no longer meditating. We may begin to think about how other people see us or about our own personal history. We should not let such discursive thoughts enter our mind. We should not think about our profession or family matters, or about food, drink or gossip. It is better to think about these things before we start our meditation and take care of them then. If any such thoughts arise during meditation, we should stop them then and there and not allow them to function in our mind.

MEDITATING ON EMPTINESS

In his concluding verse of a stanza in the Three Principal Paths, Lama Tsongkhapa writes, "Just like that, when you have understood and realized the vital points of the three principal paths, you should seek solitude, generate your power of enthusiasm and strive for the ultimate goal." The three principal paths are:

  • The determined wish to be liberated, sometimes simply described as "renunciation."
  • Bodhicitta, the altruistic mind of enlightenment.
  • The wisdom perceiving emptiness.

We must study these points, contemplate the teachings on them and then cultivate them through meditation. It takes time to gain spiritual realizations. When you study or listen to the teachings you don't get experience. You can only get experience through meditation. Without meditation you can never experience the wisdom of emptiness, and without this wisdom you can never counteract your delusions. The whole purpose of meditation is to achieve stability of mind, to enhance its potential and to gain freedom from difficulties and unwanted problems. Basically, there are two types of meditation- single-pointed, or stabilizing, meditation and analytical, or insight, meditation. Meditation means familiarizing our mind with whatever the object of meditation is. In order to practice meditation we must have an object to focus on. As we focus on this object, we try to keep our mind unperturbed and undistracted. In this way, we cultivate some intimacy and familiarity with the object of meditation. As I mentioned earlier, you can't simply sit keeping your mind free from all thought and imagine you are meditating. You are never going to achieve anything out of a blank mind.

Calm abiding, or single-pointed meditation, is where you simply try to set your mind on a chosen object. You can use anything you like as your focus and you then try to concentrate on that object without getting distracted by anything else. Calm abiding (shamatha) meditation is a very stabilized state of mind. In itself, it is not a really great achievement. You might attain some higher level of consciousness or develop some psychic abilities through calm abiding, but that's about it. In Buddhist practice, we don't feel complacent when we have calm abiding but use it more like a vehicle in which we can ride to the state of enlightenment. Our purpose for cultivating singlepointed concentration is not just to have a calm mind, but to use this mental stability to be able to practice much higher things and ultimately reach the state of enlightenment.

Calm abiding alone cannot counteract our afflictive emotions, our deluded states mind. We have attained calm abiding many times in previous lives. In this present life, we should try to use it in a more meaningful way-to deeply penetrate the ultimate nature of reality, the way in which everything actually exists. With this stable mind, we use analytical meditation to cultivate insight into and realization of emptiness. Calm abiding is very helpful for this, because our mind is so stable and firm that it can really focus on emptiness without distraction. Lama Tsongkhapa states that "riding on the horse-like calm abiding and using the sharp weapon of the middle way, you can cut through the net of distorted perceptions and grasping."

This example comes from ancient times when warriors would ride into battle on horseback. They had to have a good horse, sharp weapons and a strong, healthy body. Thus equipped, they could win battles. Putting this into a spiritual context, we need to ride on the good horse of calm abiding; if you're riding a bad horse, it will throw you off. The sharp, sword-like wisdom realizing emptiness is the real weapon we need. As well, we have to maintain the healthy body of pure discipline, or ethics. With these qualities we can overcome our actual enemy-the delusions within ourselves.

In the text, we find three major outlines dealing with selflessness and illusory perception. First we have to establish the view of the selflessness of a person. Then we have to establish the selflessness of phenomena. Once we have directly perceived both types of selflessness in meditation, when we come out of the meditative state we can see all persons and everything else that exists as illusions.

With respect to emptiness, we should practice analytical meditation more than calm abiding, especially at the beginning. We need to establish what emptiness is-what it is that we're going to meditate upon-so we start with analytical meditation. We have to go through a process of reasoning in order to establish what emptiness of inherent, or true, existence actually is. We do this by developing an understanding of dependent arising. We then use this understanding to establish what emptiness is. We then fix our mind on emptiness as our object of meditation and concentrate single-pointedly upon it. If we try to concentrate on emptiness without first understanding what it is, our meditation will not work.

We do meditation for a purpose, and we must try to bring that purpose to mind when we meditate. Some people think that meditation is simply a good way to relax from the everyday stresses of life. That is not what meditation is for. At the very least, our motivation should be to gain freedom from the pains and problems of samsara. If you want to have a higher kind of motivation, then based upon your own experience of not wanting pains and problems and wishing for peace and happiness, you should think about how all other sentient beings have the same wish. You should then practice meditation in order to liberate all sentient beings, yourself included, from all forms of suffering and bring lasting peace and happiness to all.

It doesn't matter what kind of meditation you are going to do, if your mind is excited and distracted, you must first try to bring it to a peaceful level. This is why we need calm abiding. We all have to breathe. So, based upon the natural vehicle of breath, try to contain your mind and deal with its excitement. When you breathe out, remain aware of the exhalation of breath and when you breathe in, remain aware of the inhalation of breath. One exhalation and one inhalation constitute what is known as one round of breath; count from seven to twenty-one rounds to calm your mind.

Use your own natural rhythm. Don't exaggerate the process by breathing more heavily or strongly than normal. That would be artificial. When you breathe in and out, that gentle or natural breath should be through your nostrils not through your mouth. If you mess up in your counting, it means that your mind got distracted. If you try to do this focused meditation on your breath right after you return home from work, it might prove a little difficult, but you should be able to do it after taking a little rest. Through this kind of focused meditation on your natural process of breathing, you are basically trying to bring your mind back to whatever is your object of meditation. Once your mind is brought to a certain relaxed state, you can begin your actual meditation. Maybe you want to meditate on the impermanence of life, on death and dying or on the infallible workings of the law of karmic actions and results. Maybe you want to do guru yoga meditation, where you visualize your guru or teacher. The same preparation should be done for any other kind of meditation including meditation on bodhicitta or the perfect view of emptiness.

Many people have the notion that meditation is easy, that you just close your eyes, sit properly and put your hands in a certain gesture.

Sitting like that is just a posture. It's not meditation. We must know how to meditate. The Indian master, Acharya Vasubandhu, in his Treasury of Knowledge, states that you should be abiding in ethical discipline and should have received teachings on the practice you are trying to do and contemplated their meaning. When you have really understand the practice, you are ready for meditation. It's a process. If you do it that way, you won't go wrong.

BETWEEN SESSIONS

The text states, "In between meditation sessions, be like a conjurer." How can we be like a conjurer? Our usual perception of things is that they appear to exist from their own side. They seem to have a kind of solidified and fixed nature. However, there is a disparity between the way phenomena appear to our perception and the way they actually exist. So, between sessions, we should try to understand that the way things appear to us as fixed and independently existent is like a magician's trick. We must also understand that we ourselves are the magician who created this trick, for it is our own faulty perception that sees things as existing independently. We should always try to see through this illusion, even as we interact with it. Most people perceive all things as if they existed inherently and grasp at and cling to that perceived inherent existence. There are other people who perceive the appearance of inherent existence but don't grasp at it-things appear to them as if they existed in and of themselves, but they are aware that things don't really exist in that way. Then there are people who are free of both appearance and grasping. Not only do these people not grasp at things as if they existed independently but to them, things don't even appear to exist in that way. The difference between these kinds of people is illustrated in the following example.

In ancient India (and still today in some parts), there were magicians who created optical illusions to entertain people. Using only rocks and sticks, they could create beautiful magical illusions of horses and elephants. The spectators, whose visual perception was influenced by the magician's incantation, would actually see horses and elephants and believe them to be real. The spectators are like those people to whom phenomena appear as inherently existent and who also grasp at things as if they existed in that way. The magician himself would also see the horses and elephants, but the difference was that he knew the tricks he was playing; he knew he had created them. The magician is like those people to whom phenomena appear as inherently existent but who know that things don't actually exist that way. There would also be people whose consciousness had not been affected magical incantations-they wouldn't see any horses or elephants, so they wouldn't grasp at them. They are like people for whom there is neither the appearance of nor the grasping at the inherent existence of phenomena.

Ordinary people like us-ordinary in the sense that we have not realized what the ultimate nature of phenomena is-experience both the appearance of and the grasping at true and inherent existence. Things appear to us as if they exist truly, objectively and independently and we grasp at this perceived mode of existence because we think that things really do exist in this way. On the other hand, those who have gained direct insight into emptiness may also experience the appearance of inherent existence of phenomena, but they don't grasp at this appearance because they know the truth of how things actually exist. Then there are the aryas, transcendental beings who have directly and non-conceptually experienced what emptiness is. When they are in meditative equipoise on emptiness, neither does inherent existence of phenomena appear to them nor is there grasping at such existence.

The reason you keep going round and round in this compulsive cycle of rebirths is that you do not understand ultimate reality. When you engage in your practices, you shouldn't do so with the idea that maybe, in some mysterious way, your practice is going to make you enlightened in the far distant future or that perhaps it will help ward off some negative influence. You must do your practices for the purpose of cultivating bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness.

When you make offerings, recite mantras or help the poor and needy, you should dedicate the merit of such actions to gaining these realizations. To really understand emptiness, you must meditate consistently over a number of years and continually do purification and accumulation practices. But don't let this dishearten you. Through constant effort and with the passage of time, you will definitely come to understand emptiness.

DEDICATION

We need to properly dedicate the merit we have gained through studying this teaching. Let us dedicate our collective merit for the flourishing of Buddhadharma, the source of benefit and happiness for everyone throughout the universe, and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the other great masters from any spiritual tradition. May they live long and be successful in fulfilling their visions and dreams for sentient beings.

May spiritual communities throughout the world and spiritual practitioners of all kinds remain healthy, happy and harmonious and be successful in fulfilling their spiritual aspirations. May this and other world systems be free from all kinds of unwanted pains and problems, such as sickness, famine and violence, and may beings experience peace, happiness, harmony and prosperity.

Last, but not least, let us dedicate our collective spiritual merit for all sentient beings to be free from the fears and dangers of the two types of mental obscuration and from all kinds of pains and problems and may we all quickly reach the state of highest enlightenment.